Carcassonne > Visit > Counts' Castle
hatever the side you look at the enormous and redoubtable mass of the castle, it impresses by its size !!!
Carcassonne's first masters lived in another place called "Château narbonnais" of which there are no remains today. It stood on the site of the Narbonne's Gate. The dynasty of viscounts Trencavel decided to establish their new houses on the highest point of the Cité.
The first castle at this place was built in 1150 by Bernard Aton Trencavel. But it was constructed on the remains of older buildings, dating back from the Roman times. Archeologists found Gallo-roman mosaics in the basement. The space the castle occupied was much smaller than today. It reached its current extend only after the French conquest in the 13th century.
The oldest parts we can visit today are to be seen in the courtyard. Two buildings, the western and southern wings and the ground floor of the Pinte Tower, date back from the Trencavels' period. The Pinte Tower is the highest in Carcassonne, but it is just a watchtower, not the keep of the castle.

This tower, which is more than 30 metre high (90 ft) dominates the all area, and would have bowed before Emperor Charlemagne, according to Lady Carcas' legend. But unfortunately, it didn't exist yet at that time... Sorry for the legend !

The castle was remodelled, rebuilt, and extended so many times during centuries, that it is difficult to know exactly how it looked in medieval times. St Mary Chapel (the Viscounts' private chapel) which leaned on the wall was demolished in the 18th century. Twenty babies' skeletons were recently excavated from the basement, but nobody can explains why people buried only little babies in the chapel !

The Round Chamber in the heart of the castle is the only one to have kept a fragment of its medieval decor. These are magnificent frescoes representing a fight between Frankish knights and Saracens. The chamber owes its name from the fact that people sat in circle around the lord.
The French conquerors who arrived at Carcassonne after the Crusade where not really welcome ! This country was widely hostile to them. The seneschals, representatives of the Kings, established their headquarters in the castle they considerably strengthened. They surrounded it with a fortified curtain, the entry was placed between twin towers and surmounted with two floors, each commanding a portcullis and machicolations. The castle became a "fortress within the fortress".

A barbican protects the castle against the Cité. The bridge leading over the ditch from the barbican to the twin tower's entry was partially reconstructed in the 19th century. Three different bridges formerly multiplied the obstacles for the assailants coming from the Cité : a drawbridge, a small stone bridge and a wooden bridge that could be removed easily.

These fortifications turned towards the Cité and its inhabitants say a lot about the way the French mistrusted their new subjects !

But let's go to the courtyard again, which is a true lesson of architectural history in itself ! We can see there remarkables examples of different architectural styles. Medieval romanesque and gothic architectures (Viscounts Trencavels and the royal seneschals), Renaissance, the 19th century with the restorations, and even the 20th century added its own touch, with the wooden hoardings reconstituted in the 1950s !!!

From the main courtyard a covered passage leads to a second courtyard. It was formerly not a courtyard but an immense room. Still visible today are the monumental fireplace which now hangs halfway up the wall, and the tracks of the floors supported by big stones. The room was demolished in the 15th century and concerts and plays are now performed here during the summer festival. This is a much more intimate place than the Grand Theatre !
The Counts' Castle is also very impressive from the outside of the Cité. The western constructions stand on the steepest slope of the hill and dominates the Lower Town and the Aude river to whom it was linked by a sheltered path. A succession of doors, false passages, arrow loops block the way of every enemy who would dare to attack this stone giant.
The first floor of the castle now shelters a lapidary museum : Statues, sarcophaguses, stone crosses and many other antique and medieval remains which were all found in the area around Carcassonne. A permanent exhibition also explains the visitors how the architects of the 19th century worked on the restoration of this fascinating monument.
Excavations still take place in the castle. Successively lords' palace, headquarters of the royal seneschals, military place, prison and museum, this château still keeps many secrets and treasures piled up there for more than 900 years. We can still expect nice discoverings and surprises...